Author Archives: Alpha Unit

“Carolina Reaper Madness,” by Alpha Unit

The first time Steven Leckart had a Carolina Reaper is an experience he’ll never forget. He says he popped one into his mouth, chewed it thoroughly, and swallowed. Without warning, he says, a numbness shot through his right pinkie, then up into his biceps. Strangely, a mellow head rush set in and a tear trickled down his cheek. And then (as he described in real time):

All hell just broke loose in my mouth. My tongue is burning. My upper lip is stinging. My eyes are bloodshot. It’s like being face-fucked by Satan himself.

He had just eaten a sample of the hottest chili pepper on Earth, as declared by the Guinness Book of World Records. When you first bite into a Carolina Reaper, you’ll find it sweet with a fruity essence. But within moments the astronomical amount of capsaicin takes over. The results are not pretty and might include vomiting and severe abdominal distress, to put it nicely.

The Carolina Reaper is the creation of Ed Currie of Fort Mill, South Carolina. He had been crossbreeding plants since his boyhood in Michigan and eventually used his skills to produce some potent marijuana plants. He began crossbreeding peppers after he read scientific papers suggesting that their chemical compounds might reduce the risk of heart attacks and cancer, two diseases that run in his family.

It took 12 years of crossbreeding for Currie to produce his world-famous chili pepper. He tested hundreds of hybrid combinations before he crossed a LaSoufrière pepper from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and a Naga pepper from Pakistan to create Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper. The company describes its effect as a tidal wave of scorching fire.

Pepper aficionados measure the heat of chili peppers in Scoville Heat Units (SHU). The Carolina Reaper has an official heat level of 1.5 million SHU (the hottest individual Reaper was measured at 2.2 million SHU). By comparison a jalapeño pepper ranges from 3,000 to 10,000 SHU. Currie’s employees at the PuckerButt Pepper Company (the actual name) have to wear two pairs of protective gloves while peeling the chilis and scraping out the seeds. The chili oils will eat through one pair of gloves in 15 minutes.

Demand for Currie’s peppers shot up after the Guinness Book named the Reaper the world’s hottest pepper. Americans are eating more peppers than ever, in fact, and a lot of those peppers are made into salsa. But only a fraction of fresh peppers eaten in the US are grown in the US. Most chili peppers (more than 70 percent) are imported from Mexico. Pepper production in the Southwestern US has been plagued by drought and plant diseases – and concerns about labor costs, naturally.

Ed Currie says he never doubted that he could grow the hottest peppers in the world in South Carolina. He grows most of his peppers in greenhouses, which allow him to fine-tune the microclimate for each crop and variety. All of his products (he also grows onions, tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and spices) are organic and are grown in either greenhouses or irrigated fields.

No research has confirmed Currie’s beliefs about the curative powers of the subcapsinoids in chili peppers, but he eats Reapers throughout the day, every day, and swears to their health benefits. His wife doesn’t know how he stands it.

What’s going to happen to the average person who tries a Carolina Reaper for the first time? “You’ll be crying for an hour,” Currie answers. “Literally crying for an hour.”

Lauren Laubach reported on what Currie calls the strangest reaction anyone ever had to trying a Carolina Reaper. A young woman tried one at the New York City hot sauce show in 2013. Currie recalls:

She put it in her mouth, looked at me and gave me the finger, took five steps back and planted herself flat on the concrete. For 20 minutes straight the string of expletives that came out of her mouth was unbelievable. After 20 minutes she stopped, came over to me and gave me a big kiss and said, “I love you. Let’s do it again.”

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“From Andalusia to Far West Texas,” by Alpha Unit

The wild ancestor of modern cattle is the aurochs. This nearly seven-foot-tall beast ranged throughout North Africa and Eurasia. Domestication occurred independently in Africa, the Near East, and the Indian subcontinent between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago. Humans have been raising cattle for their milk, meat, tallow, and hides ever since.

But the practice of raising large herds of livestock on extensive grazing lands didn’t begin until around 1000 CE, in Spain and Portugal. Cattle ranching, in particular, was unique to medieval Spain.

During the Spanish Reconquista, members of the Spanish nobility and various military orders received grants to large tracts of land that the Kingdom of Castile had conquered from the Moors. Pastoralists found that open-range breeding of sheep and cattle was most suitable for these vast areas of Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, and Andalusia.

It was in Andalusia that cattle ranching took hold, with cattlemen owning herds as large as 1,000 head or more. Those cattlemen oversaw the first cattle drives. Cattle could be driven overland as much as 400 miles from summer pastures in the North to winter ones in Andalusia. The vaqueros who herded the cattle were freemen hired for the year and paid in coin or in calves.

Andalusian ranchers introduced the use of horses in managing cattle – a necessity in the long overland drives to new pastures. They also established the customs of branding and ear-marking cattle to denote ownership. By the time Columbus left Spain on his first voyage, the cattle industry of Andalusia had undergone a few centuries of trial-and-error improvement. On his second voyage Columbus unloaded some stallions, mares, and cattle on the island of Hispaniola, introducing cattle to the New World.

Conquistadors who arrived in the New World in search of gold continued what Columbus began, turning Andalusian cattle loose throughout the Spanish West Indies and other parts of Spain’s colonial empire.

In 1521 Gregorio de Villalobos defied a law prohibiting cattle trading in Mexico and left Santo Domingo for Veracruz with several cows and a bull, importing the first herd of Spanish cattle to Mexico. Hernán Cortés brought horses and cattle to Mexico as well, and by 1540 Spanish cattle are permanently in North America.

Cortés had set about using enslaved Aztecs to herd cattle. Slave labor to herd cattle was overseen mostly by Spanish missions, which came to dominate ranching. Under Spanish law no Indian slave was permitted to ride horses, but this obviously impractical law was ignored. Aztec Indians became the first vaqueros of New Spain (Mexico), where conditions for raising cattle were even better than those in the West Indies.

By the 1600s there weren’t as many Native slaves, as thousands had died over time from exposure to smallpox, measles, and yellow fever, in outbreaks that began among the Spaniards and to which Natives had no immunity. As a result, the vaquero labor force came to include mission Indian converts, African slaves, and mestizos.

New Spain’s borders spread northward into what is now the US Southwest. The sparsely populated northern frontier regions of northern Mexico, Texas, and California didn’t have enough water for farming but the climate and acres of wild grass and other vegetation made them ideal for cattle ranching. Cattle and horses were now a feature of American life and were beginning to shape American identity.

Beginning in the 1820s, Anglo settlers moved to the Texas region of Mexico in search of inexpensive land. Texas was severely underpopulated, so Mexico had enacted the General Colonization Law of 1824, permitting immigration to all heads of households regardless of race, religion, or immigrant status. Anglo Texans were largely farmers and didn’t warm initially to the Spanish-Mexican concept of large-scale ranching. But ranching became popular among Anglos after immigration agents began promoting it. Texas cattle were so plentiful and cheap that most people could begin raising livestock without a large investment.

Anglo Texan cowhands and their counterparts throughout the US were the latest incarnation of the vaquero that got his start in southern Spain. The vaquero rides on, whether he’s Native, mestizo, Black, Hispano, or Anglo.

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“The Fine American Art of Making Bourbon,” by Alpha Unit

Liquor is big business – international conglomerate-style big business. Your favorite American whiskey could be controlled by people in office buildings halfway around the world. But those people rightly saw something enormously valuable when they purchased that brand. Americans are superbly skilled at making whiskey. And bourbon is signature American whiskey, as American as anything gets.

By law, bourbon must be at least 51% corn. But bourbon isn’t really about corn. It’s about trees – oak trees, in particular. If the whiskey isn’t aged in new charred oak barrels, it isn’t bourbon. For whiskey barrels, white oak, native to North America, is the gold standard.

White oak (Quercus alba) grows up and down the eastern half of the United States. It has always been plentiful in the Central Mississippi River Valley, notably Missouri Ozark country, and in the Ohio Valley, where the Ohio River makes its way westward through Appalachia. When they select white oak, log buyers for the bourbon industry are interested in the location of the trees, the age of the trees, and what growing conditions the trees were in. But it’s white oak they want because it is the most leak-resistant of the oaks.

To digress a bit about trees in general: Sapwood is new wood that acts as a conduit for water and sap distribution. As sapwood matures its pores begin to fill with organic material such as resin, and it becomes drier and stronger to form heartwood – the central, strong pillar of the tree. The sap-conducting pores of white oak are naturally plugged with a water repellent (tyloses), making white oak heartwood virtually impervious to liquids – and a distiller’s dream.

Once loggers fell the trees, truck drivers transport the logs to sawmills where workers turn them into lumber. The companies that make whiskey barrels want white oak lumber to be quarter sawn, or cut at a 90-degree angle to the growth rings. This means less twisting, warping, and cupping, as well as even greater leak resistance.

Log buyers only want wood that is straight and knot-free, with good tannin content. The grain has to be tight and predicable. The selected lumber is seasoned for a number of months, and once cured, it’s ready to be turned into whiskey barrels at a cooperage facility.

A worker will cut each board into sections, creating the staves that will make up the body of the barrel. He narrows the staves at their ends and hollows them slightly on the inside, which will create that characteristic barrel shape. Once milled, the staves are placed inside a metal hoop that will act as an assembly jig. The hoop is lined with as many staves as it takes (usually about 32) to minimize gapping between the pieces.

Now it’s time to bend the pieces. In the traditional method, the staves go through a steam tunnel that moistens them into a flexible state. Held by the metal hoop and other temporary metal rings, the wood curves into the form of a barrel. Now that it’s moistened, the wood is going to expand, creating enough friction and pressure to meld the staves into a liquid-tight container that won’t need any glue, nails, or screws. The heads – the top and bottom of the barrel – will be added later.

Charring the interior is the next step. Barrels pass over a gas-burning conveyor belt that shoots flames into each barrel to toast or char the insides. This essentially cooks the wood, extracting its flavors so that the whiskey can absorb them in aging.

Charring breaks down the chemical bonds in the wood fibers, creating smaller molecules that will impart flavor to the whiskey. Heating lignin, for example, creates vanillin, the characteristic vanilla fragrance of good bourbon. Charring releases a lot of other volatile compounds in oak, including lactone, which adds a coconut note to the whiskey. It also caramelizes wood sugars that are going to leach into the maturing spirits.

In addition to imparting flavor and color to the spirits, char removes sulphur compounds and other impurities, making the whiskey less harsh and more mellow. Barrels are custom-charred to the specifications of each distiller.

The freshly charred barrels are extinguished with water and cooled. A worker replaces the assembly jig with stronger, galvanized hoops that are riveted in place; the new hoops will hold the barrel into its curvature. Grooves are carved into each barrel to slot the heads in place, and an opening is punctured into the center of the barrel and fitted with a stopper, or bung. The barrel is tested for water-tightness, and if it passes the test, it is shipped to the distillery to mature whiskey.

To be labeled straight bourbon, the whiskey has to be aged at least two years. But if you want to know the perfect age for bourbon, there is no answer. Bourbon connoisseurs will tell you that age is more about maturity and ripeness than a specific time frame – which makes whiskey production as much an art as science. It ultimately depends on the person tasting the bourbon.

Consumers generally believe that older is better. But not always. Some distillers and tasters prefer bourbon in the 8- to 10-year-old range; others like certain bourbons to be between 12 and 15 years old. One bartender says that after 12 years, bourbon tends to take on stronger oak notes, masking some of the “subtle intricacies” she enjoys. Another says he rarely picks the oldest in any selection, saying that many times the wood tannins have started to skew the flavor.

One thing almost everyone agrees on is that the whiskey has to be aged, period. You can drink “baby bourbon” that hasn’t been matured, if you insist, but it is nothing at all like bourbon. It definitely has its fans, but a lot of people who have tried it will tell you that it’s awful. “White dog,” or raw whiskey, is named for its high-alcohol “bite.” As writer Reid Mitenbuler otherwise stated:

My bourbon-appreciating father once artfully compared drinking white whiskey to getting stabbed in the mouth with a screwdriver that’s been used to pry open a gas can.

Bourbon is not only aged to be smoother, it is diluted with water and usually chill-filtered before being bottled. Bourbon contains vegetable solids, proteins, fats, and esters that will cause cloudiness when the bourbon is chilled. This cloudiness, or “flocking,” is due to these particulates settling out of suspension. Distillers filter bourbon because some customers notice this cloudiness in chilled bourbon and return the bottle or decide not to purchase the brand again, thinking there is something wrong with it.

But bourbon enthusiasts sometimes prefer unfiltered bourbon. To them, these solids and oils add extra flavor and a rich, buttery mouth feel. Some bottles even have a bit of charcoal sediment at the bottom. To many bourbon drinkers, this is the best part of the bottle.

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Filed under Alcohol, Alpha Unit, Guest Posts, Intoxicants, Labor, Law, Regional, USA

“Working Musicians,” by Alpha Unit

One of the most recognized and beloved mandolin solos in popular music is in the final minute-and-a-half of the song that propelled Rod Stewart to fame as a solo artist – “Maggie May.” The mandolin part adds a touch of charm to a song about lust, love, and regret. But the musician who played it didn’t even get a proper credit in the notes on the album cover. Stewart had written:

The mandolin was played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.

His name is Ray Jackson. Stewart had asked him for a creative contribution to the song, and Jackson crafted the part on his Columbus acoustic-electric mandolin. He was paid £15 for his work, the standard Musicians’ Union session fee at the time. The song, and Rod Stewart, went on to make rock music history.

The standard session fee for a non-classical recording today is £120, a standard session running three hours. For 15 minutes of overtime, a musician is paid an additional £30.

Over here in the United States, a side musician gets $397 for a standard three-hour recording session. For 15 minutes of overtime, he or she gets an additional $66.

Naturally we think of musicians as artists, as do many musicians themselves. But musicians are very practical people. Since the late 19th century especially, musicians have made it known that they are ordinary working people with some of the same concerns as any other group of laborers.

Angèle David-Guillou writes of a seminal event in the history of musicians’ unions. It took place in 1893 in New York. A dispute had arisen between the conductor Walter Damrosch and the American National League of Musicians, which had been founded seven years earlier.

Against the union’s persistent demands, the conductor was employing a non-unionist Danish cellist in his orchestra. Damrosch was himself a member of the union and knew its rules all too well, as he had already been fined for a similar offense.

Spectacularly, during a representation at Carnegie Hall on the seventeenth of December 1893, as Damrosch raised his baton to signal the start of the concert, not one musician moved, leaving the room filled with an uncomfortable silence.

That was all the entertainment the audience got that night, as the concert was effectively canceled. The conductor was fined ultimately, and the Danish musician was dismissed. The power of the union had been established.

Whether it was praised or criticized, this act of resistance on the part of American artists had a resounding effect on professional musicians around the world. After all, it was the first time that musicians had so publicly stepped out of their artistic roles to become for a moment simple workers.

Historically, says David-Guillou, music didn’t have a commercial value. Court musicians would receive a pension to allow them to create freely. There was never a payment in exchange for production. “Only the vulgar street musician was paid for his song,” she writes. It was the industrialization of music that shook those conventions and forced musicians not only to put a value on their work but to fight for it.

The life of a musician had always been marked by struggle – and sometimes destitution. Competition only got worse as popular music grew more successful. Previously, traditional musical associations were able to control access to the profession. But amateurs now saw musicianship as an easy way to make money in a booming industry.

The entry of unqualified newcomers created competition between skilled and unskilled musicians, and wages, predictably, went down. Tavern owners figured that they could increase their clientele by providing music and other types of entertainment. But the welfare of their employees wasn’t a priority. As David-Guillou writes:

Musicians who were absent through illness often returned to work to find that someone else had replaced them for good. Amongst other things, rehearsals, which took several hours of the day, went for a long time unpaid. Of course, if musicians dared to protest against their treatment they were happily shown the door where many anxious candidates were waiting to replace them.

Because of their meager salaries, musicians would often have multiple simultaneous contracts inside and outside the trade. Engagements were mostly short-term, ranging from weekly to seasonal. Musicians were perpetually unemployed, and those who registered with agencies could end up owing the agent up to 25 percent of their earnings.

It was in this context that travel became an essential feature of a musician’s life. As they changed employers and colleagues on a regular basis, musicians saw that others were going through the same difficulties. This helped spread the unionist word.

Whether in Europe or the United States, musicians faced similar problems: the absence of a minimum wage, the way agencies operated, the absence of a standard contract, the difficult relationship with conductors and theater directors, competition from foreign musicians, and the treatment of “amateur” musicians. The concern about amateurs was especially divisive.

Untrained musicians were flooding the music market, which the most highly qualified musicians objected to. Some of their fellow unionists felt that the best solution was to include amateurs and semi-professionals, which would increase membership and actually enforce the establishment of a minimum wage, one of the principal demands of unions. The Amalgamated Musicians’ Union in Britain was the first union to specify clearly that “anyone practicing the art of music” could join, its General Secretary stating, “Good music does not mean classical music.” The Fédération des Artistes Musiciens followed suit.

American unionists had long seen musicians primarily as workers. The formation of the American Federation of Musicians in 1896 settled the issue of whether or not musicians should be able to go on strike. The 1893 Damrosch incident had been the turning point.

The American Federation of Musicians is the largest union of musicians in the world, with 80,000 members in the United States and Canada. Wherever music is performed, you’ll find their members. They work in orchestras and bands. They perform at clubs and festivals and in theater, whether on Broadway or on tour. You hear them on movie soundtracks, TV shows, and commercials. Of course they make a lot of the music we purchase or otherwise listen to.

The AFM’s Sound Recording Agreement sets minimum wages and working conditions for musicians who work on audio recordings both in the studio and in live performances that are recorded. Musicians also receive “new use” payments when their product is used in another medium – for example, when recordings are later used in films, TV, or commercials.

The AFM still has plenty of work to do to secure the rights of musicians to be compensated for their work. The union is deeply concerned about what it calls greed and profiteering in the music industry, which comes at the expense of those who create music. There are ongoing disputes over licensing agreements between record labels and streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, where everyone seems to be making money except musicians.

In Austin, Texas, the music industry generates almost $2 billion a year for the local economy, according to Veronica Zaragovia, but some musicians say they’re lucky if they leave a gig with $5 in their pockets. Local musicians are going without necessities like health insurance and are wondering how Austin will keep musicians in town if they can’t afford basic expenses.

Kalu James has been working as a musician in Austin for several years now and says that when he’s not at the club, he’s hustling to pay his bills. As he said:

Being a full-time musician means you have three other side jobs.

That’s one thing about the business that hasn’t changed.

References

David-Guillou, Angèle. 2009. Early Musicians’ Unions in Britain, France, and the United States: On the Possibilities and Impossibilities of Transnational Militant Transfers in an International Industry. Labour History Review, 74 (3). pp. 288-304.

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“Old-Fashioned Pig Farming,” by Alpha Unit

Woodlands are a pig’s natural habitat. But pigs are adaptable to just about any environment. They live on every continent (except Antarctica).

In the forests and woodlands where wild pigs live, trees and vegetation provide them with shelter and their preferred foods. They like places where they’ll have year-round access to water and moist ground for wallowing, such as swamps and marshes.

In spring they graze on grasses and clover. Throughout the year they’ll forage for berries, nuts, acorns, mushrooms, insects, and sometimes small rodents. But one thing a pig was designed to do is root. A pig’s snout allows it to navigate and interact with its environment – sort of like a cat’s whiskers.

The nasal disc of a pig’s snout, while rigid enough to be used for digging, has numerous sensory receptors. In addition to being useful as a fine and powerful tool for manipulating objects, the extensive innervation in the snout provides pigs with an extremely well-developed sense of smell.

Pigs can smell roots and tubers that are deep underground and in the wild can spend up to 75 percent of their day rooting and foraging. Some homesteaders put pigs’ rooting instinct to work for them and use pigs to “till” garden plots.

Daniel MacPhee and his wife use Guinea Hog piglets on their New England farm, but unlike some farmers, they don’t plan to eat their pigs.

Instead, the piglets are meant as an environmentally- and -budget-friendly cleanup crew of sorts, rooting around to clean out tough, tangled roots after a small flock of sheep has grazed at the couple’s farm, Blackbird Rise in Palermo [Maine].

By having the animals do the work, “we’re not buying machinery and we’re not wasting fossil fuels,” said MacPhee, 35. “They’re eating the roots and vegetable matter, processing that and putting nutrients back in the soil through manure. They’re doing all the same things a tractor does but without the environmental impact.”

The Guinea Hogs on their farm are a “heritage breed,” the name given to any of the distinct breeds that can be traced back to the period before industrial farming. Generations ago, there were hundreds of pig breeds on homesteads in Europe and the United States. But a lot of the historic breeds fell out of favor as the pork industry moved toward leaner carcasses and began large-scale confinement operations. This was in part the result of corn production.

As the larger settled farms of the Midwest began to produce excess corn, the availability and low cost of this feed attracted pig production and processing to the region. By the mid-1800s the states that produced the most corn also produced the most pigs, and production declined in the East and New England. The industry was becoming geographically centralized as well and the number of breeds of pigs began to decline. Several breeds became extinct by the early 1900s.

Pigs are for the most part no longer produced and sold by independent producers on open markets. Since the late 20th century, pig production in the United States has come to be dominated by a few large, vertically-integrated corporations that control every step along the way from the selection of breeding stock to the retailing of pork. A lot of the farmers who are still in the business are contract growers for the corporations. But there are independent pig farmers who are dedicated to bringing back the old breeds and are raising them in the traditional way, on pasture and in woodlands.

Some heritage breeds are very rare and are listed as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Among heritage breeds is the very popular Berkshire pig, a black pig designated “first class”. Farmers say that Berkshires have an excellent disposition and are very friendly and curious.

The Tamworth is a golden-red pig and a direct descendant of the wild boars that roamed the forests of Staffordshire. They are considered very outdoorsy and athletic. (They make the best bacon in the United States, according to some fans.)

The Large Black retains the traits of its ancestors that lived on the pastures and woods of England in the 16th and 17th centuries. They are hardy animals that can withstand cold and heat. They are well-known as docile hogs.

The Hereford is a medium-size pig that is unique to the United States. Its name is inspired by its striking color pattern of intense red with white trim, the same as that of Hereford cattle. These pigs also have a reputation for being easy-going.

The Red Wattle is especially in danger of extinction. It is a large red hog with a fleshy wattle attached to each side of the neck. These pigs are very hardy with an especially mild temperament.

There are other heritage breeds, some of which number as low as a few hundred worldwide. Heritage pig farmers want to increase demand for their breeds, because to eat them is to preserve them, they say. There is, in fact, a growing market for heritage pork, which is more tender and tastes much better than mass-produced pork. Just looking at a cut of heritage pork you see a striking difference. It’s typically darker than pork from industrial farms, some as red as beef.

Of course, there are heritage pig farmers like the MacPhees, who just like having pigs on the farm, performing those unique tasks that pigs do.

If you’ve got children, there are heritage pig breeds they would easily get along with. Brian Wright raises heritage pigs and says that some are considered docile while others are seen as “evil, killer hogs” – in other words, very aggressive. You’ve got to do your homework before picking a breed.

The Rossi Farm in Rhode Island began breeding Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs several years ago and the pigs have become a favorite. Nicknamed Orchard Hogs, these pigs originally foraged for windfall apples and are distinguished by the black spots on their white coats.

The Rossis say Gloucestershire Old Spots are extremely friendly and laid-back. When the pigs are in the pasture, the children are often out there with them. And the pigs love having their ears scratched by the kids.

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“Black Women and Beauty,” by Phil

This article shall partake in an investigation of “attractive traits” with females of West African extraction in terms of their effects with regard to appearance, along with a discussion of their development. Such an endeavor is undertaken due to Satoshi Kanazawa’s controversial work in analyzing differences in perceived beauty among races.

Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?

In my honest opinion, this was something that I had trouble going through when thinking of women. I mean sure, I could think of attractive black women but typically they were mixed noticeably.

However, it wasn’t until I read and saw pictures of Native African women that I noticed four appealing physical aspects of African women.

Traits:

1. Eye Shape – Defining eye shape of Blacks is sort of weird, for there are various caricatures. The type encompasses the big “wide eyes”, “sad eyes” (almost like triangles, giving a sad look to them), small slits, etc. The big eyes I find to be more common in deeper jungle Blacks, I believe, sad eyes and slits to those that came from the desert. Medium/almond eyes, that are sometimes considered “pseudo Asian” eyes on black women, were among the one I found rather appealing.

2. Lips – While “Big lips” are sometimes seen as unattractive as opposed to small or lips that are just full, depending on the actually shape of the lips themselves they look nice as well. The thing is though is that they are less of a sexual appeal of beauty and just more of a comely feature when they are big but well shaped.

3. Contrast of features against skin – In the case of having attractive features they become more pronounced. Not a huge necessity for standard beauty, but a nice trait at least – though its effect depends on the presence of pre-existing features. The trend was present, although further examining led me to conclude it wasn’t that uncommon.

4. The fourth one has at first a bit of a dubious nature to it. Basically it deals with cases where typically discouraged traits like prognathism and prominent cheek bones look good when coupled with a slimmer face, prominent chin, and not as exaggerated. Basically what this does is further draw attention to these features in an organized and pleasing composition. The issue is that I was unsure of how significantly “common” this trend was, though further examining led me to conclude it wasn’t that uncommon.

Here. This would be a decent example of what I’m talking about.

However, it’s time to get to cons.

1. Head shape – From what I read, at least for the average African American female, they tend to get a wider face. Personally, a face that’s more pointed or oval – that is, having a thinner lower face – is more attractive on women. In the case of Black women this is caused by the larger Jaws of Blacks generally, more prominent cheek bones, and emphasized with a narrower forehead amongst blacks. However, I believe this is more of a male trait than female.

2. Nose – Basically more angular noses are preferred but I think it is more of its relative size and how much the nostrils flare.

3. Body – Reading info from Steve Sailor, while Black men in America have narrower hips than Whites or Latinos, Black women have the widest waists of women and even wider waists than Black men.

This is basically due to a combination of earlier development of female fat distribution in females and Blacks being on average more impulsive, in this case particularly with food. In some African cultures it’s a sign of beauty. Often before marriage ceremonies the women go through a fattening period.

Examination:

While many are probably familiar with European-mix progression, examples of African progression can be seen here amongst these Igbo women, an ethnic group of various looks.

Igbo Women

The two on the right and the second from the left are overall better looking than the one in the middle or on the left end (though the one in the middle is of course notably older). The causes are more noticeable in the one second from the left and the one on the far right, having less prominent cheek bones, more expressive eyes, and smaller lower lips. The eye traits are present in the one second from the right, though she has prominent cheekbones. This trait is complimented with a wider forehead and what I believed to be a more prominent chin.

More African women.

Compared to the one on the far left, the other two look more appealing due to having smaller jaws. But overall none look hideous, just more “ethnic looking” in which they have the traits to a noticeable but not to an exaggerated degree. All three, however, show the cheekbone trait (which I may add looks actually nice when coupled with a smaller jaw) but they seem to have “better” facial proportions where their faces don’t look unpleasingly wide. Their eye shapes seem to vary, too.

Ibo women.

The one on the far left shows African achievement of a face highly reduced of maxillary prognathism, while the one on the right shows one that is only partially reduced but is at a point that displays that unique “attractive” jutting I mentioned earlier. The one second from the right when compared to the one second from the left has wider (more almond) eyes and less prominent cheekbones, appearing more attractive due to a slimmer looking face and more expressive eyes. The one in the very middle is blurry but appears to resemble the type on the far right.

Young Ibo Women of Ibuza

Each of these girls, in my opinion, deviate a fair amount from typical vices due to the lower jaws with smaller lips and noses, though the one on the left seems to have a lower forehead (a vice that I forgot to add as well as possessing more slit eyes. The one on the right is quite the opposite, having quite a wider and higher forehead with bigger eyes.)

Igbo Women

This is a favorite of mine in which it shows a very good example of African progression that I speak of, being prognathism that is subtle and pronounces the fullness of the lips, not extending further than nose length, an overall smaller nose, what appear to be almond eyes, cheek bones that are showing but not overly prominent, with a forehead that is round.

The only concerning “flaw” it the forehead’s height but it’s not that big of a deal.

Biafrans.

The one on the right has the smallest jaw, thinnest lower face, intermediate nose and eyes size, and least exaggerated cheekbones. Still, all are rather pretty in my opinion anyway.

Though we’ve seen many examples of well-formed faces, actual specimens of body shapes yield little variation (from what I could find) to offer in forms of images. Most were slim, lanky forms that, while not truly unpleasing in my opinion, I must admit I would be biased in saying that it wouldn’t have limited appeal. Among African-American women these forms seems occasional but not that common, at least to me. Thus, it is likely due to nutritional factors if not wholly due to admixture, for native Africans were often recorded to be vegetarians, meat being held more commonly as a luxury rather than a given.

However, I’m fortunately in possession of positive commentary of European comments on Gold Coast women of both the Fanti and Ashanti tribes.

“The women when young are ugly in face and beautiful in form, when old they are in both.” (This is likely due to R/K breeding, causing faster maturation and possible loss in the retaining of younger traits).

“In general appearance the Ashanti much resemble the Fanti though they are not perhaps so strongly built. They are however quite as good looking and according to Mr Bowdieh the women are handsomer than those of the Fanti.”

The Uncivilized Races of Men in All Countries of the World Volume 1. by J. G. Wood

Discussion:

Now that we are familiar with the identification of African progression of attractive female traits, what possible mechanisms in Africa caused the common (without influence of modern opinions) stereotype type to prevail?

Well, Satoshi, after ruling out BMI and intellect differences, claims testosterone differences. The reasoning behind this is due to his findings that, net of intelligence, Black men were rated higher than men of other races. This led him to suggest that difference in testosterone, which produces masculine features and being recorded to being highest in blacks, resulted in Black males deemed more attractive and females not.

I’m unsure of this inference, but it does draw attention to the stronger association between “beauty” and intellect in Black males compared to females. The topic between his research of beauty and intellect can be accessed here for others to discuss in the comments, for now I’m going into some knowledge of why the results are the way they are.

Beautiful People Really Are More Intelligent

One possible reason for these results is social roles in regards to sexual selection. From reading Among the Ibos by George Thomas Basden:

“In the majority of cases young man makes his own choice. He happens to a girl who attracts his attention and he immediately inquiries as to her parents and whether she be engaged or not. If she is free he endeavors to through her friends information concerning her in cooking trading and other useful and profitable accomplishments. He also inquires about her whether she be of good temper quiet industrious and so forth. Should these investigations prove satisfactory he lays his case before his parents or his friend for he cannot make the first advances personally.”

According to this, while initial notice (likely attraction) starts courtship, it is actual character that causes union to follow. Some HBD’rs claim that populations in Eurasia had a more directed course of selection, often described as self-domestication. It’s possible that in cases like here with some African tribes different standards in selection caused for different measures of association of intellect – for example, a proxy of character – that caused the weaker association in black women. It is worth mentioning, however, that based on Satoshi’s research that the correlation between attractiveness and intellect is higher in men than women by about 2.4 IQ points. I believe the association becomes stronger as a society develops. The Ashanti have often been commented to have a higher culture than Fanti, and the women of the Ashanti were commented to be more beautiful as well, though the margin between men was regarded as relatively smaller, with the Fanti males having a better build but the Ashanti being superior in facial features.

Regardless, I’m an amateur at best with the topic and I urge anyone else knowledgeable on the topic to share in the comment section.

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Filed under Africa, Anthropology, Blacks, Guest Posts, Nigeria, Nigerians, Physical, Psychology, Race Realism, Race/Ethnicity, Regional, West Africa, Women

“Southern Sweet Potatoes,” by Alpha Unit

Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard was a military officer who became the first brigadier general of the Confederate States Army. In 1987 at Louisiana State University Dr. Larry Rolston, an entomologist and Civil War enthusiast, came up with a high-yielding, disease-resistant strain of sweet potato that saved the sweet potato industry in Louisiana. He named his variety after General Beauregard, of St. Bernard Parish. It remains one of the most popular varieties.

Sweet potatoes, a type of morning glory, come in over 400 varieties grown around the world. Louisiana’s soil and climate are ideal for growing sweet potatoes. But Louisiana sweet potato growers have some great competition in Mississippi. The Mississippi Sweet Potato Council will tell you.

No other sweet potato can compare to the ones we grow in Mississippi. We produce premium Number One sweet potatoes bursting with flavor and freshness. The rich, fertile soils of North Mississippi make our sweet potatoes appealing both inside and out.

Last year Mississippi planted just over 23,000 acres of sweet potatoes. About 500 of those acres produced organic sweet potatoes, mostly for baby food. Ricky and Jamie Earp are second-generation sweet potato farmers who run the operation their father started in 1968 near Houlka in Chickasaw County. About 60 percent of their crop are Beauregards.

As with almost all other growers in the country, labor is of prime concern to the Earp brothers (pronounced ARP, as in “sharp”). But unlike so many other growers you talk to, the Earps say they have a reliable local labor supply made up of people who have worked with them consistently over the years. Jamie Earp says that his wife and Ricky’s wife also help in the business.

Sweet potato farming is not highly mechanized. About his labor force Jamie says:

For planting, we’ll need 20 to 22 workers for about two and a half weeks, and at harvest 30 workers for about eight weeks. We have three harvester machines, each requiring eight workers. Then there are those who run the tractors and forklifts and other operations. Some of those same people help out in packing and shipping throughout the year.

Danny Clark of Vardaman, Mississippi, is in the same business. He is a third-generation sweet potato farmer. He says that sweet potato production is very hands-on labor-intensive, and that a lot of growers in the area use H2A workers, who are mostly Hispanic and work seasonally. But like the Earps, he says that most of his labor is local, mostly women who have been with his operation for many years.

At harvest time he operates digging rigs that move through the field at less than 1 mph, scooping sweet potatoes onto conveyor belts on each side of a trailer, where an eight-person crew sorts them into bins according to grade. It’s still going to be a while, though, before the sweet potatoes are ready for market.

The thing about sweet potatoes is that you don’t want them “green.” If you eat a green sweet potato you might be convinced that you don’t like sweet potatoes. Between 15 and 20 percent of the sweet potato harvest in the US is washed, packed, and shipped immediately after harvesting. These freshly dug sweet potatoes aren’t very sweet or moist.

Unlike a lot of other freshly harvested produce, sweet potatoes have to “set up” to be really enjoyable. They are cured by storing them at 85-90 degrees F and about 90 percent humidity, for 5 to 10 days. This is when they start developing their sugar-creating enzymes. This process also heals any bruises or skinning that occurred during harvest and allows the sweet potatoes to be washed and packed with less outer damage.

Afterwards the sweet potatoes are stored at 55-60 degrees F for six to eight weeks. The sugars continue to come to life. In due time the harvest is ready for packing and shipping. When you get them home and put them in the oven, the sugars really kick in.

You can’t tell by looking at a sweet potato whether or not it’s been cured. But a lot of growers assure you that they only ship cured sweet potatoes – especially those sold from September to the end of the year, when they sell the most. Edmondson Farms of Vardaman says through their highly advanced storage method they can provide consistent and exceptional quality sweet potatoes year-round.

Edmondson grows mostly Beauregard sweet potatoes in northern Mississippi and in Oak Grove, Louisiana. They’ve clearly got the best of both worlds.

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“The Kinder, Gentler Version of Bull Riding,” by Alpha Unit

Little Yellow Jacket was a famous Brangus bull – a Brangus being a cross between an Angus and a Brahman. He had one horn pointing up and the other pointing down. The Professional Bull Riders organization made him “Bull of the Year” three different times. That’s a record.

He was in good company as Bull of the Year. There was Mossy Oak Mudslinger. And Chicken on a Chain. There were Panhandle Slim, Cripple Creek’s Promise Land, Code Blue, and Dillinger. But nobody was as notorious as the 1,800-pound “World’s Most Dangerous Bull.” That was Bodacious.

Bodacious first appeared on the circuit in 1992. In no time he was found to be virtually unrideable. According to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame:

All muscle, the bull with the distinctive yellow coloring bucked off 127 of his 135 riders and became known for a bone-crushing style that sent many riders to the hospital, including world champions Tuff Hedeman and Terry Don West. Bodacious was known for his explosive exit out of the chute…His ability to buck riders off before they could nod their heads did not endear him to the cowboys.

The way he came out of the chute was bad enough. But what really made Bodacious so fearsome was his signature move: he would raise his rear end, his head to the ground, causing the rider to shift his weight forward. He would then jerk his head up and smash the rider in the face.

Tuff Hedeman, one of the few riders who ever stayed on Bodacious, had an infamous meeting with Bodacious in 1995 during the Professional Bull Riders World Finals in Las Vegas. A mere second after exiting the chute, Bodacious jerked Hedeman down and head-butted him, shattering every bone in his face below the eyes. It took 13 hours of reconstructive surgery and five titanium plates to repair the damage. Hedeman told reporter Burkhard Bilger that his sense of smell and taste never returned.

That same year in the National Finals Rodeo, Scott Breding chose to wear a hockey mask for his ride on Bodacious. He needed more than that. Bodacious head-butted him and knocked him out, breaking his nose and bursting one of his eye sockets.

The next day Bodacious was retired from rodeo.

If bull-riding is more thrill than you can handle, no problem. Not everyone can take on the likes of Little Yellow Jacket, but just about anyone can pretend to. Plenty of bars have mechanical bulls for their patrons. You can even rent your own mechanical bull for a birthday party, graduation, or other festive occasion.

Or go to the county fair. All over the United States during the summer you can find enterprising men and women who announce “Have Bull, Will Travel.” Like Jerry and Kathy Boone of New Plymouth, Idaho, who carry their mechanical bull, Samson, to county fairs and rodeos throughout the region. Or Cal Perkins, who makes mechanical bulls right here in the US and whose bulls are found in all 50 states and a handful of other countries.

Cal Perkins was a professional bull rider in the late 1970s and early 1980s but quit the circuit when he and his wife decided to start a family. After his sons became interested in rodeo, he began building bucking machines. He now custom-builds mechanical bulls at his shop in the tiny town of Murtaugh in southern Idaho. He brands his creations “the world’s best bucking machines.” The Times-News of Idaho reports:

Perkins takes great pride in the realistic look of his bulls. Each machine is upholstered with cowhide from Brazil and a real bull’s head from Mexico. That’s one of the reasons his bulls are so popular, he said.

Perkins travels with two mechanical bulls, one a miniature bull created for the little ones; it will take a rider up to 180 pounds. The set-up for his regular mechanical bull, which includes a protective air-filled mat, is designed to protect a rider up to 250 pounds.

And what about the rider? What do I need to know before I get on a mechanical bull? Professional bull riding champions Shane Proctor and Luke Snyder offer a few tips to would-be mechanical bull riders, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.

  • “Have enough beer to drink so you can get your courage up.”
  • “Make sure to make really good friends with whoever is running the bull. It’s not like eight seconds with a real bull. If you piss off the ring guy, he can keep you on however long he likes.”
  • “Keep your chin down. Wherever your chin goes, that’s where your body is going to go.”
  • “Make sure your free hand is in front of you. It helps guide your direction.”
  • “Sit close to your hand holding the bull. It’s like a teeter-totter, so you want to establish your center of gravity. If you sit too far back, you will fall off.”
  • “Know you are going to wipe out, and know you are not going to look graceful, so have fun and just fall off.”

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Filed under Alpha Unit, American, Animals, Cows, Culture, Domestic, ER, Guest Posts, Idaho, Sports, USA, West

“Picking Blueberries Isn’t What It Used to Be,” by Alpha Unit

People from Washington County, Maine, which borders the Canadian province of New Brunswick, will readily tell you about the natural beauty of the area – and about how friendly and hardworking the people are. But some of them will also tell you not to move there unless you don’t need to work.

Maine’s six “Rim Counties,” the rural counties just south of the Canadian border, are among the poorest counties in New England. Washington County has more unemployment and poverty than the rest. Paul Constant, who hails from Maine, says that the popular conception of Maine as nothing but lighthouses and lobsters is far from the truth. Once you get away from the relatively affluent parts of southern Maine, you see how tough it can really be to live there.

But Washington County, the poorest part of Maine, is special. It is the wild blueberry capital of the world.

Maine has 44,000 acres of wild blueberries that bring in about $250 million in annual revenue. Cultivated blueberries from other states dwarf the production of wild blueberries that grow on Washington County’s “barrens,” says Philip Conkling. These areas got their name because only blueberries and a few other plants could grow on the sandy soils left by the receding glacier. A spokeswoman for the Maine Wild Blueberry Commission told him that Maine grows a very special product but most people don’t know the difference between a wild blueberry and a cultivated one.

Philip Conkling offers a hint: the fat watery ones with less flavor are the cultivated ones.

In the summer of 1974 Conkling jumped at the chance to make some money raking blueberries at the Deblois barrens in Washington County, as part of a crew assembled by some neighbors who also owned blueberry land. He says that the wild blueberry harvest was the one time of year when just about anyone between six and 60 could earn a small pile of cash “to spend like a grasshopper or save for the coming winter.”

One week later I was in the back of Ralph Jr.’s two-ton, stake-body truck with a motley crew of neighbors, lurching off Highway 193 onto dirt roads that curved around endless vistas of blueberry fields on the barrens. When we stopped, Ralph handed me a bucket and a blueberry rake. He explained that when I had filled my bucket, I was to bring it over to a hand-cranked winnowing machine to separate the leaves and stems from the berries and then pour the berries carefully into wooden boxes. For this, I would make $2.50 a box. Seemed simple enough.

It turned out to be back-breaking work.

For generations most of the laborers in the blueberry fields were Native Americans, from the local Passamaquoddy tribe and Mi’kmaq from Canada. But with the expansion of the industry, blueberry farmers started hiring migrant workers to increase their labor force. Since the 1960s the harvest has been picked mainly by migrants, most of whom are Mexican, Mexican-American, Filipino-American, Jamaican, Haitian, Honduran, and Guatemalan. They work alongside Passamaquoddy and Mi’kmaq families.

Still, there are fewer migrant laborers in the barrens than there used to be. Since the 1990s growers have been using mechanical harvesters. Some blueberry operations are almost completely mechanized, and others are planning to make the transition. These machines can harvest about 10 times what a typical person can harvest with a hand-held blueberry rake.

Some analysts say that mechanization is the consequence of uncertainty over immigration reform. Without any long-term clarity on what the law will be, growers can’t easily plan for even five years ahead.

What about hiring native Mainers to replace migrant workers? Not really an option, according to some growers.

“There are people who say if we just paid more, Americans would do the work. But that’s a joke,” said Ed Flanagan, president of Jasper Wyman & Son Inc., Maine’s second-largest blueberry grower. Flanagan says hard-working pickers make as much as $20 an hour here, almost three times Maine’s minimum wage of $7.50.

Even though Washington County has high unemployment, the seasonal jobs in the blueberry fields find few takers among local residents.

Another grower works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to make sure its seasonal staff are in the US legally, but a spokesman says every year it’s a gamble. “You never know if enough people are going to show up to get the job done,” he says.

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Filed under Agricutlure, Alpha Unit, Guest Posts, Illegal, Immigration, Labor, Legal, Northeast, Regional, USA

“The Last Trip From Jacksonville to San Juan,” by Alpha Unit

A US Navy salvage unit is headed to the debris fields near the last known location of the SS El Faro, a US-flagged cargo ship that sank last week during Hurricane Joaquin. What they want to recover immediately is the voyage data recorder, which captured the ship’s course and speed as well as onboard audio from the bridge. Once submerged, the recorder would have begun pinging. It has a battery life of 30 days.

The El Faro is a “roll-on/roll-off” cargo vessel designed to carry vehicles that are driven on and off the ship. It left Jacksonville, Florida, last Tuesday on its weekly run from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It held 294 cars, trucks, and trailers below deck and 391 containers topside carrying groceries and other retail products.

There were 33 crew members, including Captain Michael Davidson, a veteran mariner of over 25 years’ experience. Twenty-eight of the crew members were from the United States and five were from Poland.

TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico operated the El Faro and says the 40-year-old vessel was sound and well-maintained and that it had passed its annual Coast Guard inspection in March. The question that has been floating around for the past week is “Why did the captain set sail in the face of a hurricane?”

Experienced mariners say that it isn’t at all unusual for a captain to head out under those conditions. One Merchant Marine captain, Laurence Wade, told the Portland Press Herald that sailing in bad weather, even in hurricanes, is part of the way of life for mariners.

You do the best you can. You ride it out. If the [El Faro] hadn’t lost power it would have been in San Juan by Friday and back in Jacksonville today.

Others remind us that the decision to sail rests with the captain, not with the company, and that no captain would take a ship and its crew into harm’s way. Wade says that he never likes to see people questioning a captain’s decision, particularly those with no experience at sea.

A former merchant mariner and current maritime lawyer named Rod Sullivan told the South Florida Business Journal that the El Faro probably sailed due to routine.

People get wedded to their schedule. There are vendors, stevedores, truckers who are all expecting the ship to arrive. There’s pressure to keep on schedule.

That’s putting it charitably. Other mariners say that pressure from the shipping office is intense. On all kinds of forums where people are discussing this disaster, you’ll find sea veterans making comments like this:

To answer your question, the most likely reason that the El Faro sailed when and where she did was because she had a schedule to keep at San Juan’s container port, and that was paramount over the concern of risking the ship and the lives of those serving on her…

Some flunky at a desk in an office building somewhere scheduled a particular vessel to be at a certain place within a specified time window, and that’s pretty much it…details like war or weather or other such things are treated as just another thing that the crew is expected to “deal with.”

Executives at the parent company of TOTE Maritime acknowledged on Monday that the company could have vetoed the captain’s decision to set sail but say that Captain Davidson had a sound plan that would have enabled him to pass clearly ahead of the storm. Had the El Faro not lost propulsion, Davidson would most likely have succeeded.

Why the ship lost propulsion is still unknown. The ship left Jacksonville on Tuesday, September 29. At 7:15 AM on Thursday, October 1, the Coast Guard received distress alerts from the El Faro. Just before the alerts went out, Captain Davidson had notified TOTE Maritime that the ship had lost propulsion and was listing 15 degrees in the midst of Hurricane Joaquin. The captain also noted that the ship had taken on some flooding but that the crew had the situation under control. This was the last contact anyone had with the ship.

According to Rick Spilman of The Old Salt Blog, these vehicle carriers have an inherent weakness that might have doomed the El Faro.

Ro/ros have wide vehicle decks. They are essentially parking lots at sea. The wide and open decks are necessary for efficiently driving vehicles on and off ships. The problem is that even moderate flooding of the vehicle deck can dramatically destabilize a ro/ro. The sloshing of water on the vehicle deck, referred to as the “free surface effect,” can cause the ship to capsize rapidly and without warning.

In addition to the sloshing water in the vehicle deck, vehicles can become unsecured in heavy seas and slide to one side, causing a ship to list even more. That is what happened when the Korean ferry Sewol capsized in 2014.

The El Faro‘s emergency beacon sent out a signal briefly and then stopped. The beacon is designed to float away from the ship and continue sending a signal. If the El Faro capsized, the beacon could have been trapped underneath the ship, says Spilman.

In the estimation of Captain Joseph Murphy of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, two essential things to the survival of the ship were its ability to maintain propulsion and its power. He explains:

Propulsion so they can maneuver it and power so they can maintain communication. The other one is watertight integrity so that the ship is able to float. By all reports, she had a 15-degree list, which would have made it difficult for them to launch lifeboats. And she had lost power and communication so my suspicion is that they did not have either propulsion or power.

My personal belief – and I don’t have anything to go on other than experience, years of going to sea – is that the ship actually did capsize and sank very, very quickly.

Most people don’t think that much about mariners or the vessels they work on until tragedies like these occur. The fact is, almost everything we use and consume every day arrives to us by ship. The goods flow day and night, but transporting them is a risky enterprise. In addition to the grueling work schedules and battles over pay, there is the fact that mariners work in a wilderness as deadly as any other on Earth.

“Mother Nature is merciless and more powerful than we give her credit,” says a former maritime instructor to those who wonder why this happened. In a discussion at the Service Academy Forums, he says there is an evolution you go through.

Stage 1 is, I’m a little scared, but I trust you guys. Stage 2 is, I’m strong, I’m invincible, I can handle anything, BRING IT. A lot of people stop there. A lot of people LIVE under the illusion that because they can turn up a thermostat, turn on a faucet, flip a switch and cook a meal, that they have bested nature. Technology only takes you so far.

Forty-foot seas, 140-knot winds, no port to enter, no way off the ship, no one to negotiate with, no alternatives. Human beings can adapt to and overcome a lot of things, but sometimes there is a confluence of nature that makes it NOT POSSIBLE. And those people get to Stage 3: I am strong, I am trained, I am clever, and I have my wits – but I am a speck of dust on a capricious planet, and I am at its mercy.

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